I awoke to a smell so familiar that it was disorienting. Once again, it was me and Mr. Roaman’s bowling ball. Or at least the bag; after a moment of panic I realized we weren’t in the closet and I was inside of the bag. What if he’s taking me to be drowned? came the wild thought. Back at the pound another pair of kittens had told me a horror story that still haunted my dreams–they had been fished out of the Charles by a Tufts coxswain one early morning, but it had been too late for the other three in their litter. I shuddered, and found myself reaching out to Sasha’s weird outer soul. It rippled like a live thing and I felt it stroke my fur with a crackle of reassurance. I yipped in surprise.
The man laughed. “It’s okay, Eureka. Mind if I call you Eureka? It means ‘I found it.’” It had a better ring than “Squeaker,” so I guessed I was okay with it, meaning I’d deign to answer when he called me. It was only fair. I purred. It felt right to purr again, with my tummy no longer hurting and that crazy outer soul doing the handless petting thing. What was up with that, anyway? I batted at it, feeling a tingle in my paws. It withdrew, and Sasha laughed again.
“You’re a Th’nashi cat now, Eureka. Get used to it.” A Th-whatsy? My vocabulary was pretty good, but this was a new one. He had a sort of Western accent–maybe they were a Native American tribe? No, the Navajo woman who cleaned for Mrs. Roaman a couple of times was an ordinary human. I shrugged it off for now.
I poked my nose into the crack left by the zipper pull. The bag was so old that it had plenty of air holes, which was probably why Sasha had picked it, but none big enough to see out of, and I wanted to get a good solid smell of where we were. But the remnants of Mr. Roaman’s hair gel were stifling. I pawed at the zipper.
“Nothin’ doin’, pardner,” he drawled. “All I need is a kitten underneath the brake pedal. Cool your jets. We’ll be home in about five minutes.” Ah. Car. Fair enough. I overlooked the imputation that I’d be stupid enough to interfere with its operation, because I knew that there were cats out there whose moronity transfixed the entire human population, their faces of shame immortalized forever on the computer. Not me. But as Fred used to say, if there’s a Rule #1, it’s “Never let on that you’re fluent in English,” so I pawed and mewed enough to make it look good. I noted that Sasha’s understandable exasperation at my accompaniment was tempered by a great deal of good-natured amusement. Good sign, that. I left off after a bit and went back to sleep. Five minutes is a long time when you’re recovering from starvation.
I was awakened by the sharp and delectable smells of Outside–lots of plants, including some minty cousin of catnip, and I believe a squirrel. But all too soon, we were indoors again. My bag was deposited on something firm yet very soft, and Sasha went back Outside for a moment, returning with a familiar smell that I’d tuned out before–he’d nabbed my litter pan from Mrs. Roaman’s. Then we were off again, his footsteps muffled on what I had now figured out was a rug that was far softer and denser than the wall-to-wall I was used to. Fancy schmancy, as Mrs. Roaman would have said.
We crossed through a couple of different sets of foreign smells, including what I’d swear was a kitchen, but I wasn’t sure because if so, it was a lot cleaner than Mrs. Roaman’s; although there were mice, and I began to feel at home. But as we descended a set of stairs, a new overwhelming odor hit me and I felt a little panicky: There was a lot of water down there, scented in an odd way. What the hell? Did this guy have the world’s biggest bathtub in his basement?
Well, yes. Yes, he did. He uncorked me on a soft-sanded wooden bench, and there it was. Huge. A two-paw worth of humans–or Th’whatsies–could fit in the thing. It was bubbling. I just sat and stared bug-eyed. Surely he didn’t even begin to imagine that I . . .
But no. He laughed. “Calm down, Eureka. Unless I find fleas, you’re on your own in the bathing department. Here’s your pan,” he called over his shoulder, and tapped me with his outer soul so beguilingly that I followed him without thinking about it. He set it up by some big white machines that smelled like clean clothes and I hopped in at once and christened it for luck. I could tell this pleased him.
“I’ll put your food and water upstairs,” he said, half to himself, “but you won’t need any more for a few hours. And then–hello! Your other daddy’s home. Hope he ain’t got an aversion to cats. I don’t think so. Don’t think it’s come up. Oh well. My house!”
We went upstairs, Sasha pausing to let me try the stairs on my own. I got pooped out after three. “Isn’t it time for more Prairie Picnic?” I mewed. I had to get my strength back before the local mouse pack found out what a wussy I was. But instead he picked me up in those warm gentle hands and held me eye to eye for a second. He had fair hair and eyes that were the color of sun on leaves, very like Fred’s. I patted his clean-shaven face and he smiled. He had a crease in his forehead and a few slight wrinkles around his eyes, which I knew from TV meant he’d been in the sun, but no wrinkles around the smile, meaning it was still brand-new out of the box and not much used.
He carried me up to where another not-quite-human man was unpacking his briefcase on a big dining table. Even with him sitting down, I could tell that this new man was very tall. He had dark hair flecked with silver and strange pale eyes, and his face had little wrinkles at all the places which meant he used the whole thing a lot all the time, like an actor’s. He spied me in Sasha’s arms and grinned, his outer soul lighting up the room. I felt smug. No cat aversion to speak of.
“What the hell do we have here?” He stood up and held out a hand. He was very thin, but it looked like it was normal for him. Other-Daddy was even a bit taller than Phil the exterminator, who had told Mrs. Roaman and the neighbor lady that he was 6’6”. Sasha only came up to his armpits, but it didn’t seem to faze him. I could tell by measuring their outer souls that both these men were as dangerous as toms in a back alley, but I would wager a two-paw of catnip that Sasha’s ears wouldn’t be nicked worst.
“Terry, this is Eureka. Her former household has been disrupted by what appears to be a natural death. Little old lady, no surviving anything, and the other cat had an unfortunate snack, although he might have yacked it back on the rug by now, Mrs. Roaman having left the firm about a week ago. Not Eureka, though, I hasten to reassure.” Terry’s hand had hesitated for a moment on hearing about Fred’s deplorable misbehavior, but continued on to me and started stroking my fur. I meeped what I knew was my very cutest and patted at his finger, figuring I should hasten to reassure as well.
Sasha transferred me to Terry with a sharpened caution. I could tell he was prepared for the big man to drop me or do something stupid, but he needn’t have worried. Terry’s huge hands almost covered me, and I felt safe and sleepy from the overkill of the protective buzz of his outer soul–a table turned on the usual cat-human cuddle. Maybe the Th’whatsies had cat DNA.
Sasha continued. “She’s missing, presumed starved, and I had a startling lapse of professionalism and decided to cut some corners around the MSPCA. Did you know kittens this age cost over $200?” From the furnishings of the house, I wouldn’t have thought that that was a deal, but I could tell that it was to Sasha. I felt a small qualm. I hoped I could handle the mice, to justify my expense.
Terry sat down, putting me on the table, then scooping me up with haste at Sasha’s scowl. He decided instead to take me into the living room, and we all sat on the couch. Another couple of the weird new humans were in a room nearby, but I was too tired to investigate. Besides, I could somehow tell that they didn’t matter to Sasha, not the way Terry did.
Terry laughed. He had a nice voice, with an accent that was neither Mrs. Roaman’s Boston brogue or Sasha’s cowboy twang. Classy part of New York, I guessed. He could have been on TV. “You stole a cat from a possible crime scene? Alexei Van der Linden, I’m shocked at you. No, seriously, Sasha,” he added, “I’m shocked. What possessed you? What if you get caught?”
Sasha drew himself up and his outer soul dropped about a thousand degrees. “I’ll eat my hat if Mrs. Roaman died by foul play. No crime scene. I wanted a cat. You know as well as I do that humani-raised cats, like the average shelter kitty, don’t adapt well to Th’nashi homes. That meant a kitten. One discarded kitten.” He pointed at me. “One happy kitten owner.” He pointed at himself. “Who happens to be the boss. I don’t get caught, I do the catching. It was just weird luck that Araimfres got pulled by the Order onto Dai’yaht duty tonight and I got this call.” He frowned. I could hear the whirr of some small device on his person. “In fact, here comes another one.”
He rose from the couch, rumpling my ears until I shook them out. “Make friends. Tell the bodyguard that she’s an indoor kitty. Her box is in the basement. In fact, make yourself useful and give her some water in the kitchen. No food,” he finished sternly. “I’ll give her a little more when I get home. She has to take it easy for a day.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Terry grinned. He seemed to know what all this Armfruh-Die-ott-Order jazz was all about. Me, I was mystified. I curled up in a corner of the huge leather couch and went to sleep.
It was early morning when Sasha returned. I remembered what he had said about the possibility of filling my once-more-rumbling stomach, and ran to meet him. He laughed, although it sounded weak. I could tell that he was very tired. He was covered in an antiseptic smell and his short fair hair was damp.
“Hey there, kitcat. Have a spoonful.” He served me out some more Prairie Picnic and sat cross-legged on the floor while I ate it. I noticed he was now wearing doctor’s scrubs instead of street clothes. The ties dangling from his waist had possibilities, I noted to myself, but I was still not quite up to playing yet.
He carried me upstairs with him, to the interest of a young man with long hair, who had poked his head out of a small room in the hall where I could hear a video game and another person cursing.
“His Grace has a cat now?”
“No. I have a cat now. His Grace just lives with us,” said Sasha in a stony tone. Quelled, the boy vanished back to his friend.
We entered a large bedroom that smelled of strange toiletries but no human decomposition, and I relaxed against Sasha’s shoulder. Terry was already sprawled across most of the king-sized bed in the room, snoring in a soft baritone. Sasha put me down on the foot of the bed and stripped off his clothes, pushing Terry to one side and climbing into bed with a sigh. Terry half-woke up and snuggled him close.
Fred had been with Mrs. Roaman since her husband was alive, and had told me rather lurid stories that I thought prepared me for what was going to happen. But instead of any mating activity, after a sleepy affectionate kiss, Terry bit Sasha hard on the neck and started drinking his blood. Just like in the movies! I would have bet my eyes couldn’t get any wider, and my heart pounded until I was dizzy. They weren’t human! Oh Bast!